After receiving their NBA championship rings, the Los Angeles Lakers came out flat against the Houston Rockets in their season opener. Another title celebration is the last thing on the Lakers' minds these days.
Los Angeles looks to avoid its first four-game losing streak since 2006-07 on Wednesday night, when it makes its only trip to Houston this season to play the Rockets.
After a second straight championship banner was raised to the Staples Center rafters on Oct. 26, Los Angeles trailed Houston by as many as 15 in the first half before rallying for a 112-110 victory.
It was the Lakers' third straight win in this matchup.
"You tell 'em to go enjoy the ring ceremony and then get down to work. It's not always possible to get focused again," coach Phil Jackson said after the victory.
Jackson likely isn't as forgiving now after watching his team drop three straight for just the second time since acquiring Pau Gasol in February 2008. Former Rocket Ron Artest had his potential game-winning 3-point attempt blocked as time expired and Los Angeles (13-5) lost 98-96 at Memphis on Tuesday.
"I went middle and I had the shot that I wanted, but I lost the handle on the ball while I was going up, so I kicked it to Ron," Kobe Bryant said after scoring 29 points.
The Lakers, whose last four-game slide was April 8-13, 2007, will face a Rockets team in far worse shape than the defending champs.
Houston (5-12) has dropped six of eight and has been without Yao Ming (bone bruise, left ankle) and Aaron Brooks (sprained left ankle) for the last 10 and 12 games, respectively.
Coach Rick Adelman has no idea when either of his starters will return.
"I've stopped asking," Adelman said following Monday's 101-91 loss at Dallas. "It's just what the doctor sees as they progress...They both have to get on the floor before we'll know how long it will be."
Without their seven-time All-Star center and floor leader, the Rockets are still looking for someone to step up to help the team close the first half strong.
Houston, shooting 34.0 percent in the final three minutes of the second quarter, was outscored 10-1 in the final 3:09 of the first half Monday.
"It's just the same story," backup center Brad Miller told the Rockets' official website. "... We've just got to find a way to lock it down at one of those points and not allow big runs like that."
Slowing down Bryant would be a good start against Los Angeles, but the Rockets are among the worst defensive teams in the league, allowing 106.4 points per game. Shane Battier will likely see plenty of time against the Lakers superstar, who is shooting 42.8 percent from the field after missing 16 of 25 on Tuesday.
"I think he felt like he had to carry a little bit of the load," Jackson said of Bryant, who had 27 points in the Oct. 26 victory. "... He's going to test the defense, and the other guys are going to have to step in."
Gasol, the league leader with 15 double-doubles, scored a team-high 30 points with eight rebounds in the Lakers' last game in Houston, a 109-101 victory March 27.
Rockets forward Luis Scola, averaging career highs with 20.6 points and 9.1 rebounds, had 18 points and 16 boards in the loss at Staples Center.